Category Archives: Sides

Roasted potato salad with bacon and spinach

A delicious salad that would make a great lunch or as a lighter side to a juicy steak or roast, rather than the usual roasted vegetables.

Fun fact: I think potatoes have had a bit of a bad rap with their high GI. However, if you dry cook potatoes (ie roasted vs boiled) and also allow them to cool, their GI actually lowers. It has to do with the effort your body has to expend to digest foods and increasing their resistant starch. I won’t go into the details – you can do more research if you want, here is a nice quick reference if you’re interested.

Keep the potato skins on for added nutrition. The skins have B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, calcium, potassium and also provides lots of fibre. Be sure to wash the potato well and remove any obvious blemishes before cooking.

Ingredients serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side

  1. 750 g new potatoes or if using larger ones, select a waxy variety, like the red potato, so they “hold together” when you mix them
  2. *optional – rosemary
  3. 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  4. 1 bunch of spinach leaves
  5. 1 clove garlic – skin on
  6. 2 tbls red wine vinegar
  7. 1 tbls dijon mustard
  8. 3 tbls olive oil (see note below)
  9. *optional – squirt of mayonnaise
  10. Good handful of grated fresh parmesan cheese
  11. salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F
  2. Place the potatoes in a baking tray
  3. Drizzle olive oil and season with salt and pepper and rosemary if you have it
  4. Bake in oven for 30-40 minutes
  5. Pop your clove of garlic in with the potatoes 10 minutes before they have to come out
  6. COOL YOUR POTATOES TO ROOM TEMPERATURE
  7. Blanch the spinach leaves until wilted, drain and squeeze out as much liquid as you can – you don’t want a soggy salad !
  8. Pan-fry or microwave the bacon till their nice and crispy
  9. Make your dressing
  10. Remove the skin from the garlic and either mince/mash into a jar with a tight fitting lid
  11. Add the red wine vinegar, mustard, oil, mayonnaise (the mayonnaise makes the dressing a teeny bit creamier – use as much or as little as you like but add that in a little at a time until you get the desired consistency
  12. Pop the lid on and shake well to mix
  13. Add the cooled potatoes, spinach, crumbled bacon to a large bowl
  14. Dress lightly – you want the dressing to just coat the potatoes, not be gluggy
  15. Top with grated parmesan and mix again
  16. Season with salt and pepper to taste

NOTE: I think anchovies are one of the best things in the world, and always have a big jar of marinated anchovies in my fridge. When cooked they don’t smell too fishy, they melt into the sauce and add a complex savoury note to whatever dish you are making. With this dish, instead of using plain olive oil, I used the anchovy oil. You’ll need to make sure you taste the final dressing and dish before you season with salt so it’s not too salty.

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RIP Grandma Khoo 1918 – 2012

Grandma Khoo’s chilli paste in action in a beef rendang

It seems like ages since I posted anything. I was excited a few weeks ago to share some of the fab eats I managed to squeeze in while in New York for work, and then en route home to Singapore I found out the sad news that my grandmother had passed away on the first day of Chinese New Year.  Highs and lows like I’ve never experienced before.

I do understand that she was just part of a generation that I just think was made of tougher stuff than mine, but I am still in awe of who she was – growing up in the small island of Penang in Malaysia, uneducated and not that well-off, she managed to raise eight children, one of whom she “lost” in the war, and three who passed away before their time. She taught herself English enough to get by when she came to stay with us in Sydney, and looked after my sister and I with both my parents working at the time.

And of course, she cooked.

My grandmother was Nonya, so the food she cooked – Peranakan – had influences from Chinese and Malay cuisines. I have some of her recipes which she shared with me years ago, but trying to replicate when she gave measures like “a few eggshells of water” or “enough liquid to cover your first finger knuckle” (no matter how much rice was being cooked) truly tested my ability to taste but allows for true personalisation.

I’dlike to share a few recipes with you that remind me of her. Because she cooked them with love, for my family and I.

Chilli paste used to make chicken curry

Grandma Khoo’s famous sambal chilli paste blend

This is one of those chilli pastes that forms the basis of sooo many Peranakan dishes and can strangely take on different flavours if you add stock or coconut cream, additional spices, and even the type of protein you use. Make sure you have plenty of good ventilation before frying this paste up or you’re house will smell of curry for days after – it’s potent stuff. I’m going to try to give you some measurements as close as I could come by.

Ingredients

  1. 2 large handfuls dried red chillies, soaked in warm water for at least an hour
  2. 1 cup shallots, peeled
  3. 2 thumb sized pieces of galangal
  4. 6 stalks lemongrass
  5. 1 head of garlic, peeled
  6. good pinch of salt
  7. good pinch of sugar
  8. thumb-sized piece of belacan – dried shrimp paste *optional – this is pungent stuff and may put many people off but it actually adds a mellow umami undertone, similar to anchovies, that makes all the difference

Method

Pull the stalks off the chillies and remove as many seeds as possible. Pop all the ingredients in a blender (grandma used to blend all of these painstakingly with a mortar and pestle before she discovered food processors) and store in an airtight container. It should keep in the fridge for up to 10 days and in the freezer for 3 months. You can use this as a base for dishes like chicken curry with coconut cream, or assam fish curry, with tamarind stock. Experiment and let me know how you go !

Acar (pronounced a-char)

This is a nonya pickle that is great accompaniment to balance out the richness in a lot of nonya dishes.

Ingredients

  1. 1 large carrot, 2 radishes, 1 medium cucumber (skinned and deseeded) – juliened to similar sized sticks
  2. 1 red and 1 green chilli, sliced on the diagonal
  3. 2 tbl white sesame seeds
  4. 1 thumb sized piece of tumeric root – cut into think sticks (use ginger if you don’t have access to this and add 1/2-1 tbl tumeric powder)
  5. sugar and salt to taste
  6. enough white vinegar to cover the vegetables in whatever you decide to store them in
  7. you can also add in cauliflower florets and pineapple to the dish

Method

  1. Blanche the carrot, radish and cauliflower with boiling water. They need to stay crunchy, so I would almost cover them with boiling water, let them sit for 30 seconds then strain
  2. Fry the tumeric root in some oil until fragrant. Remove and discard
  3. Add the vinegar to the pan and bring to the boil
  4. Add the vegetables, stirring regularly for 4-5 minutes
  5. Store in a glass container (not plastic or metal) in the fridge for a few hours before serving to allow the flavours to develop

Tomato and onion jam

This year I have branched out in my lead-up-to-Christmas cooking. In addition to cookies, I made a tomato and onion jam over the weekend.

There’s something that I find intensely comforting about cooking, especially when I have the luxury of time (ie not for a Monday night dinner). I had the flat to myself for a few hours, so I amped up the volume on my favourite playlist and got chopping, chopping, chopping.

This recipe is another one of those that is incredibly easy and just needs time for all the flavours to intensify, and is a really versatile jam that can be used with chicken or pork, and also works spectacularly well with a sharp cheddar (or any cheese for that matter). Oh and it’s based on another famous recipe from my mum-in-law 🙂

I made a monster amount of this jam – I figured I’d spend the time once to make a big batch, put in sterilised jars and share with friends. If you don’t have a large enough pan, feel free to cut down the amount you make to suit your needs.

Ingredients (makes enough to fit 6 x 250ml jam jars)

  1. 3 kilos of tomatoes – I used a mix of vine ripened, roma and cherry – roughly chopped
  2. 2-3 medium red onions, sliced
  3. 1/2 cup golden raisins
  4. 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  5. 1 cup granulated sugar
  6. 1/2 cup malt vinegar (I’ve also made this with red wine vinegar)
  7. Juice of 2 lemons
  8. 2 tsp salt
  9. 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  10. 1/2 tsp ground coriander

Method

  1. It’s a pretty mammoth task to chop 3 kilos of tomatoes and in a perfect world you should discard the skins and seeds, so feel free to, but I didn’t de-skin mine and just didn’t add any seeds that were on the board when I was chopping
  2. Add all the ingredients together in a pot that’s big enough to fit everything in, and stir well to combine
  3. Bring to boil and then reduce heat to a gentle simmer
  4. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the liquid evaporates and you’re left with a sticky jam – this can take anything from 3-8 hours. I should have taken a photo of what it looks like when ready but you can use the above as a photo as a guide. When I made smaller batches it only took 3, yesterday’s took 8, so the time you have available is something also to consider
  5. If you are going to jar the jam, then you should sterilise your jars to help prevent contamination and also so they keep for longer. After washing the jars well in hot soapy water, you can either put them in the dishwasher (if you’re lucky enough to have one) or do what I do and put the clean jars on a paper lined tray in an oven at about 160C (320F) – remove any rubber seals if your jars have them – 30 minutes before you think your jam is done. After 30 minutes, carefully remove and put the hot ham in the jars while they are hot so that you minimise bacteria/mould growth and once slightly cooled, pop them in the fridge.

Roast prime rib of beef with yorkshire puddings and onion gravy

The resting rib roast

Pretty much the classic English roast dinner. I’ve tried roasting beef before but it just didn’t come up to the standard of ones I’d had in England (the best I have ever had was at Simpsons in the Strand in London) and the allure of crackling roast pork and the ease of roast chicken always won over wanting to attempt a roast beef again.

Until recently.

My dinner plate with medium rare roast beef, yorkshire puddings and duck-fat roasted rosemary potatoes (before the gravy)

I watched a Masterclass episode of Australian Masterchef (which is by far the best of the UK, Australian and American versions) where Gary Mehigan made this with his mum, and the next thing I knew I was looking up the recipe from Delia Smith and researching the best recipes for the most voluminous Yorkshire puddings (which ended up being Delia’s again – although I added an extra egg and made six muffin-sized ones instead of one huge one).

My yorkies !!

Here they are.  Looks lengthy but all it takes is a little bit of planning.  And it’s a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Ingredients

  1. Rib-in beef.  I bought two ribs for the two of us and there was plenty leftover.  Don’t let your butcher cut off the layer of fat on the edge.  That will help to keep the meat moist and also crisps up well in the oven.
  2. salt and pepper
  3. 1/2 tsp mustard powder mixed with 1-2 tbl plain flour

For the yorkshire puddings (makes six)

  1. 75 g plain flour
  2. 2 eggs
  3. 75 ml milk
  4. 55 ml water
  5. Salt and pepper
  6. 6 tbl oil that has a high smoking point – I used macadamia oil and added a teaspoon of duck fat

For the gravy

  1. Beef stock
  2. tbl plain flour
Method
  1. Make the Yorkshire pudding batter first
  2. Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre
  3. Break the egg into it and beat, gradually incorporating the flour, and then beat in the milk, 2 fl oz (50 ml) water and seasoning (an electric hand whisk will do this in seconds)
  4. Set aside while you prepare the beef
  5. For the beef:
  6. Make sure the beef is at room temperature by taking out of the fridge two hours before it needs to go into the oven
  7. Preheat your oven to gas mark 7, 425F, 220C
  8. Season the beef all over with salt and pepper
  9. Dust the fat with the mustard powder/flour mix to give that extra crispiness
  10. Pop into the oven for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to gas mark 5, 375°F, 190°C and cook it for 15 minutes to the pound (450 g) – this will give you rare beef. Add 15 minutes to the total cooking time for medium rare and 30 minutes for well done.
  11. While the beef is cooking, lift it out of the oven from time to time, tilt the tin and baste the meat really well with its own juices – this ensures that the flavour that is concentrated in the fat keeps permeating the meat, and at the same time the fat keeps everything moist and succulent. While you’re basting, close the oven door in order not to lose heat.
  12. Once the beef has been roasting to your desired “doneness”, remove from oven and let it rest for at least 30 minutes for all those yummy juices to go back into the meat
  13. Turn up the heat to gas mark 7, 425°F, 220°C and get your Yorkshire pudding done while the beef is resting
  14. For the Yorkshire puddings:
  15. Add the oil/fat to six cups of a muffin tray and place that in the oven
  16. After 15 minutes remove the muffin tray ***it’s important that the fat be smoking hot***, then place the tin over direct heat while you pour the batter into the sizzling hot fat. The batter should start to fry in the fat immediately
  17. Return the tin to the baking sheet on the highest shelf for 20 minutes until they are crisp and golden
  18. Take out of the oven, turn the puddings upside down and pop back into the oven so that the bottoms crisp up as well and don’t go soggy
  19. For the gravy:
  20. Take the beef out of the roasting tray and while it’s resting, pop your roasting tray over your stove and add the beef stock to deglaze the pan and release all those yummy bits stuck to the bottom of the pan
  21. Sprinkle flour over the stock and bring to boil, stirring all the time to avoid lumps.  It will thicken a little as it cools
  22. You can make fancy gravy by throwing some onions in to roast with the beef.  These will cook down and will add a delicious flavour to the gravy.  You can even use them as a trivet for the roast.
  23. Serve all three with rosemary roast potatoes

Pan-fried sea bream with fresh tomatoes and cauliflower mash

I hate low carb. I hate the fact that they have taken the joy out of enjoying warm crusty bread rolls fresh from the oven. And biting into perfectly al dente pasta. And loving the fact that the rice absorbs all the flavours of curries on your plate. And creamy, fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes filling my mouth. I wish they would tell us that starchy carbs are not the enemy. But enemy they are. And as we get older, we have found that we need to watch what we eat, just that little bit more.

One of our favourite fish dishes (apart from my salmon, corn and herb salad) is pan-fried fillet of fish with fresh tomatoes on mashed potatoes. I tried something today which, surely does not replace potato mash, but manages to have the same consistency – sort of fooling my brain – with the mild taste of cauliflower, which we luckily happen to love.

The mash of course is not the hero of the dish.  The hero is pan-fried fillet of fish (tonight we had sea bream) with a fresh tomatoes, flash fried in butter, and poured over the fish almost like a dressing, or sauce.  You can, of course, go nuts with potatoes instead of cauliflower – just don’t tell me about it. (I’m even being cheeky and categorising this under “healthy”)

Ingredients (for two)

  1. 2 fillets firm white fish fillets – snapper, bream whatever you have access to
  2. handful cherry tomatoes, chopped
  3. 1 tbs butter plus a nob extra for the mash
  4. half a small head of cauliflower
  5. salt and pepper

Method

  1. Start the mash first.  Cut the cauliflower into pieces and cook till very soft.  You can either boil or microwave – I boiled mine but I’d imagine microwaving it might make for a dryer, firmer mash
  2. While the cauliflower is cooking, season the fish fillets with salt and pepper, and pan fry in some olive oil until crispy on the outside and still tender inside.  Depending on the thickness of the fillets, this usually takes about 3-4 minutes on each side of a hot pan
  3. Once the cauliflower is soft, mash or use a stick blender and whizz till creamy.  Add butter, salt and pepper to taste.  You could even add in grated cheese or cream for a richer flavour
  4. Take the fish out of the pan and in the same pan, melt the tablespoon of butter until frothy and toss the tomatoes in for 30 seconds until they release their juices and mix with the butter to make a silky sauce
  5. Serve the fish with the mash, topped with the buttery tomato mix

Quinoea Salad

Attempting to try to eat a little healthier of late, I decided to make a quinoea salad. High in protein, quinoea is also high in dietary fibre, phosphorous, magnesium and iron, and is also gluten-free. Preparation is similar to cooking rice or couscous and it has a mild, slightly nutty flavour. I also like the slightly “crunchy” texture it has.

Ingredients (makes a huge big bowl of salad)

  1. 3/4 cup quinoea
  2. 2-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock – I used a shitake concentrate
  3. 1/2 punnet baby roma tomatoes (or cherry) cut into quarters
  4. 1 small red onion, finely diced
  5. 1 small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely diced
  6. handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped – you can use any herbs you like, I also added coriander and basil
  7. half block feta, cubed
  8. 4-6 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  9. 2-3 tbs red wine vinegar
  10. juice of half a lemon
  11. salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Bring the stock to boil and add the quinoea, covering at a low simmer and cooking for aournd 15 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed (the cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta)
  2. Once cooked, set aside and allow to cool
  3. Mix all the other ingredients together, add the cooked and cooled quinoea and mix well
  4. Allow to sit in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the quinoea to absorb all the yummy flavours
  5. Serve as a main or as a side.  It would go well with pretty much anything.

Home-made yoghurt

I have an ongoing obsession with yoghurt. I love the tangy, twangyiness of it, but I miss the creamy versions that I used to be able to get from the food courts back in Sydney.  There, you get thick dollops of creamy yoghurt, topped with a variety of fruit/pulp of your choice – passionfruit, blueberries, fruit salad – you name it.  You can get semi-decent store-bought yoghurt here, but the ones that aren’t full of sugar or that use organic ingredients can be a bit pricey.

A recent visit to Blu Kouzina inspired me to make my own yoghurt (to make tzatziki).  Their tzatziki was thick and creamy and just the right side of sour.  Worked so well with their home-made pita bread.

I did go out an buy a yoghurt maker just because it makes keeping a steady warm temperature easier, but if you go online there are ways of doing this in your oven etc.

For me, all I had to do was to bring a litre of milk up to 85C.  This process kills off the bad bacteria that makes milk go bad. If you don’t want to burn your milk, you can do this over a double boiler – otherwise, keep stirring the milk in the pan.

Once that’s done, take the pan off the heat, and place into a water bath to bring the temperature to 25C.  I have a thermometer so this makes it easy.  Be patient, it can take some time.

Take a small amount of the cooled milk and either add 5g of yoghurt starter culture (bought from a health food store) or you can take a small portion of ready made yoghurt, mix well, and add back to the rest of the milk.

Pour the milk into the jars, cover, and place undisturbed in the yoghurt maker.  I used starter culture and followed the instructions on the packet and left it overnight for 12 hours.  It was like magic – milk goes in, and when I woke up, the jars had yoghurt !

I saved a few jars to have as breakfast – I am going to stew some strawberries with sugar to top the yoghurt with.

The rest I strained in a clean teatowel over a bowl for 3 hours and I have the thickest, creamiest yoghurt with which to make my tzatziki with.

I even used half a cup of my freshly made yoghurt to make healthy banana bread.

Call me odd but this has just made my Sunday !


Grilled parmesan polenta

I’ve always been a big fan of polenta, especially when it is grilled. I was roasting a chicken for dinner and wanted to deviate from the usual baked vegetables – onions, garlic, potatoes.

Polenta can be served soft and gooey, almost like mashed potatoes, or it can be made beforehand, chilled to set and then cut into shapes and grilled/baked or even pan-fried so it’s crispy on the outside.

For me, if I want mash, make it potato please.

So parmesan polenta it was then.  Deliciously cheesy it’s just a lovely accompaniment to roasts especially ones that have yummy juices for the polenta to mop up.

Ingredients (to make enough as a side for 6)

  1. 3 cups chicken stock
  2. 1 1/4 cups polenta
  3. 3/4 cup grated parmesan, plus another 1/4 cup for baking)
  4. Nob of butter
  5. Olive oil for baking

How:

  1. Bring the chicken stock to boil
  2. Add the polenta in a slow steady stream, whisking all the time
  3. Reduce the heat to medium, change to a wooden spoon and continue to stir for 3-5 minutes, until the polenta is soft
  4. Stir in 3/4 cup of parmesan and the butter
  5. Pour into a lined baking dish and smooth the top, let cool for 30 minutes before putting in the fridge to set for 3 hours
  6. Once set, preheat oven to 180C, remove from the dish, cut into shapes (I like thick rectangles), place in a single layer in the baking tray
  7. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top
  8. Pop into the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown
  9. Serve hot and watch them disappear !

Honey glazed carrots

Honey-glazed carrots

I wanted to have some vibrantly coloured vegetables on the table for Christmas lunch with my family, and decided to serve simply blanched haricot vert and honey-glazed carrots.

The thing with the carrots is that they still need to have some bite after they’ve been roasted, so when you first boil them, make sure there is still plenty of crunch left in them.

Ingredients:

  • 500g carrots sliced into sticks
  • juice of small orange
  • 3tbs honey
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200C
  2. Add the carrot sticks to a saucepan of cold water and bring to boil
  3. Boil for 2 minutes max, and then drain and lay out in a single layer on a baking tray
  4. Add the orange juice, honey and olive oil in a jar, mix well and pour over carrots
  5. Season with salt and pepper
  6. Put in the oven for 20 minutes

Christmas roast

Roasted pork belly

Last year I roasted a turkey for the first and last time. Not that I didn’t like the finished product, there was just so much of it leftover, and with just D and I, turkey leftovers get a little boring, no matter how you try to dress them up.

This year, D will have to do without turkey, as I have the special present of my parents visiting, and I’m reverting to a family tradition of making roast pork for my family.

I’m lucky to live in Singapore where I have easy access to lots and lots of pork belly, my favourite cut of pork to roast.  It’s such a tasty cut of meat, due to the layers of fat between the meat that seem to almost melt once roasted, just basting the meat in tasty goodness and keeping the meat tender and moist.

A little preparation can also give you brilliantly crispy crackling.  Simply pat the meat dry and score the skin every 1 cm (you can also ask your butcher to do this for you).  A great trick is to use a stanley knife – it’s a bit rudimentary, but it works a treat in giving you evenly deep cuts into the skin without any stress at all.

Coat the entire cut of meat in oil, and then rub a liberal amount of salt into the skin, making sure you get salt into the scores.  Then pop into the fridge, uncovered, for a few hours or overnight if you can.  Both the salt and the fridge draw the moisture out of the skin to ensure a really cracking crackling.

Bring the meat out of the oven an hour or two before roasting to bring it to room temperature.

Brush off the excess salt, and then season the entire cut on all sides, above and below with salt and pepper.

Pop onto a roasting tray, and into a hot oven at 230C for 30 minutes to get the crackling going.  Then lower the temperature to 180C for an hour – an hour and a half if you’ve got a huge piece of pork belly.  Because pork belly is a thin-ish cut of meat, it doesn’t take a long time in the oven, but also because of the layers of fat, it’s a forgiving meat to leave in the oven for longer at a low temperature.

Leave out to rest for at least 30 minutes before tucking in.  This will give you time to make gravy with the juices in the tray.

Haricot vert, potatoes roasted in duck fat, honey-glazed carrots

Serve with roasted potatoes (I’m doing mine in duck fat for a more festive touch – if only I could find goose fat !), roasted onions, garlic, leeks and any other vegetables that you can find in your fridge.